To the Moon: Boeing, the Rocket Foundry

To the Moon: Boeing, the Rocket Foundry

Summary: Our first profile is Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

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The historic Apollo 11 mission in July of 1969 culminated in the first manned moon landing. While many of the proud Americans who were involved in that project are no longer with us 40 years later, the technologies they built still live on, will be further refined, and will return us to that lonely world and beyond.

How We Built the Technologies (Introduction)

IBM and UNIVAC: The Integrators

Rocketdyne, Keeper of the Flame

Grumman, One Giant Landing for Mankind

As part of a series through the beginning of August, I am going to profile the key companies and the projects which made Apollo 11 a reality -- from the firms that performed the systems integration, built and designed the avionics components, engineered and manufactured the powerful rocket engines which hurtled the mighty Saturn V into space, and created the legendary spacecraft which made history.

Our first profile is Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

Boeing's work on the Saturn first stage booster took place at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans. Parts for the booster were shipped to Michoud from the company's Wichita plant, as well as from subcontractors around the country. (Boeing Photo)
Boeing's work on the Saturn first stage booster took place at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans. Parts for the booster were shipped to Michoud from the company's Wichita plant, as well as from subcontractors around the country. (Boeing)

The Saturn V rockets, standing 363 feet tall, were the most powerful launch vehicles ever built by the United States, and the most powerful in the world ever brought into operational status.

They were comprised of over hundreds of thousands of component parts and weighed in at nearly 6.7 million pounds when fully loaded with liquid oxygen/hydrogen (LOX/LH2) and liquid kerosene (RP-1) propellants.

Over 6.5 Billion dollars was appropriated in 1962 for their design and construction, which adjusted for inflation is roughly $45 Billion today. 15 of these gigantic multi-stage rockets were constructed, with 13 launched in missions between 1967 and 1973.

The manufacturing of the Saturn V was the most ambitious and complicated multi-contractor construction and assembly project ever created or executed by the US aerospace industry. To build and design the rocket, several large contractors were assigned the "Primary" roles. There were dozens of medium-sized or "Secondary" contractors, and hundreds of smaller contractors which supplied parts as well as specialized engineering and consulting experience to the Apollo program.

Hundreds of thousands of workers from all of the companies and NASA combined were employed to achieve the goal of a successful Moon landing by the end of 1960s, as President Kennedy had vowed the country would complete in his historic speech in 1962.

While Kennedy is often given credit for this push to the moon, the previous administration under President Eisenhower set up much of the infrastructure to enable the military-industrial complex to achieve the eventual goal, as well as having formed NASA itself.

The Primary contractors for the "airframe" of the Saturn V were Boeing, North American Aviation and Douglas Aircraft. Ironically, through a long series of mergers and acquisitions in the aerospace industry, only Boeing remains today, holding most of the assets of those combined companies which built the rocket.

The heritage units of the Boeing company -- which today include McDonnell Douglas and the aerospace and defense units of Rockwell International -- built all the major components of the Saturn V launch vehicle, except the lunar lander. North American Aviation (NAA) and Rocketdyne, noted above, were part of Rockwell International (Illustration by Boeing)

The Saturn V rocket was comprised of 3 stages, the S-IC boost stage, the S-II Second Stage, and the  S-IVB stage, above which sat the Command Module/Service Module which carried the astronauts to the moon via Trans Lunar Injection (TLI). From the Apollo 10 through the Apollo 17 missions, a Lunar Module Adapter was also used atop the S-IVB to house the Grumman-built Lunar Module (LEM).

Gallery: Boeing / Saturn V Construction and Development

Supplementary Reading: Boeing Apollo Stories (PDF)

Also See: Boeing Integrated Defense Systems Apollo 40th Anniversary Website

Video: Apollo 11 (Boeing, Windows Media)

The rocket engines on the Saturn V themselves were built by Rocketdyne, which was owned by Rockwell during the 1960s as part of their acquisition of North American. Rockwell was sold to Boeing in 1996 and the assets of Rocketdyne were divested to Pratt & Whitney in 2005, a United Technologies company.

Rocketdyne built two types of engines for the Saturn V, the liquid kerosene/oxygen fueled F-1 and the liquid hydrogen/oxygen fueled J-2. The Command Module/Service Module engine, the AJ10-137 was built by Aerojet, whereas the Ascent/Descent stage engines of the Lunar Module were built by Bell Aerosystems and Rocketdyne, respectively.

The logistics involved in constructing and assembling all of the stages of the Saturn V were enormous. The heaviest portion, the S-IC, was constructed at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, with tool machining done at Boeing's Wichita, Kansas plant.

Testing and integration of the S-IC with engine coupling was performed nearby at the Mississippi Test Operations Complex (now Stennis Space Center) in Bay St. Louis. At Michoud the S-IC was mated to the huge J-2 rocket engines which were flown in from Rocketdyne's assembly plant in Canoga Park, California, using a specially designed aircraft known as the Super Guppy.

After assembly at Michoud and testing at Stennis, the entire stage was barged to Cape Canaveral where it and the rest of the other stages, which traveled by ship through the Panama canal FOB to Florida from North American and Douglas's facilities in Seal Beach and Huntington Beach, California.

All of these stages were stacked on top of each other in the massive Vehicle Assembly Building which was constructed specifically for housing the Saturn V. The rocket was then rolled onto one of two launchpads using a specialized crawler transport vehicle/mobile launch platform.

The first Saturn V flew on Apollo 4, in early November of 1967.

Floyd Long (seated left in upper left photo) was the 1st Stage (S-IC) Supervisor for Boeing during the Apollo Program.

Listen to a podcast with Jason Perlow and Floyd Long, Saturn V 1st Stage Supervisor at Boeing

Since the conclusion of the Apollo Program, Boeing's space initiatives through their Integrated Defense Systems subsidiary included important roles as a primary contractor on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, as well as becoming a world leader in expendable heavy-lift rockets such as the Delta series through the United Launch Alliance for private and military use and an important supplier of modular commercial and military satellites.

Without Boeing, their Delta launch system and their 702 series of satellites, you'd have no DirecTV, XM Satellite Radio or Google Earth, whose General Dynamics-built GeoEye-1 was launched on a Boeing Delta II rocket in September of last year.

While the successors to the Saturn V, the Ares I and the Ares V are still on the drawing board, Boeing has already submitted proposals to NASA to help design and build them. While contracts have yet to be awarded and none of the designs are set in stone, knowing Boeing, it's not unlikely that we'll see the company in a key role in our nation's return to the Moon with the Constellation Program.

Were you or someone you know an employee of the Boeing family of companies that contributed to the Apollo program? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Nasa / Space, IBM, Travel Tech

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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22 comments
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  • Resource

    An excellent resource on the Saturn program is "Stages to Saturn", by Roger E. Bilstein. It is part of the NASA History Series (NASA catalog number SP-4206), and is still available (US$50, + shipping) from the US GPO (http://bookstore.gpo.gov/subjects/sb-222.jsp).

    While being somewhat dry as reading material, occasionally seeming very much like a technical manual, Bilstein's book covers the history and development of all the Saturn launch vehicles, from the first test vehicles through the last ones which were used to put the Apollo/Soyuz and Skylab missions into space.

    The book includes many charts, diagrams, and photos, many of which are rare or unavailable anywhere else.

    Highly recommended.
    M.R. Kennedy
  • RE: To the Moon: Boeing, the Rocket Foundry

    Neither the tools, nor the fixtures, nor the tools that built
    the tools, nor the technical knowhow to build the tools
    exist anymore.

    The CEOs and the banksters, controlling the corporate
    world have destroyed, laid off or otherwise dismantled, the
    ability to make a Saturn rocket today. The corporations in
    their greed for "maximizing share holder value" have
    destroyed it all.

    The organizations mentioned in the article as building the
    Saturn vehicle are just shadows of their former greatness.
    gertruded
    • Rocketdyne

      I got to spend about three hours on the phone
      with Rocketdyne engineers podcasting them. The
      tooling for the original F-1 and J-2s were
      destroyed, but the J-2X to be used on the Ares
      has been brought back from the dead with all
      new tooling. Combined with RS-68 and SRBs the
      two will be a great pair of engines for our
      future launch vehicles.

      Don't count out Boeing either. They have the
      capability, and more, to build whatever comes
      our way in the future.
      jperlow
    • @gertruded

      "Neither the tools, nor the fixtures, nor the tools that built
      the tools, nor the technical knowhow to build the tools
      exist anymore."

      In this, you're only one-quarter right. While the fixtures to build the Saturn series boosters are long gone, the tools and the know-how are still there. The Ares booster designs have the capability of being as good as, if not better than, the Saturns.

      "The CEOs and the banksters, controlling the corporate world have destroyed, laid off or otherwise dismantled, the ability to make a Saturn rocket today. The orporations in their greed for "maximizing share holder value" have destroyed it all."

      Uh, no. The American people of the mid-'70s, along with their elected representatives, were the ones who emascualated NASA. The former became bored with the successes of the Apollo program, while the latter, bless their black, flabby hearts, had other ideas (and not necessarily *better* ideas) on how to use the money being poured into the space program. Because of the "economies" required to keep some vestige of the program going, NASA developed the Space Shuttle system. While that has worked out relatively well, we've lost two of them, including their crews, and the remaining orbiters are past due for replacement.
      M.R. Kennedy
      • Tooling/Saturns

        [b]In this, you're only one-quarter right. While the fixtures to build the Saturn series boosters are long gone, the tools and the know-how are still there. The Ares booster designs have the capability of being as good as, if not better than, the Saturns.[/b]

        Both Boeing/Lockeheed/United Launch Alliance and Rocketdyne are in a very good position, along with a number of other large contractors, to put us back on the moon. The key here is to do it with less cost than it did before. The Ares system has not yet been fully defined as to who will be building what or what the actual final design is, but the performance characteristics will match or exceed the Saturn with far less financial expenditure.

        jperlow
      • Death of Apollo

        As an old geezer who was a teenager during the Apollo program, it wasn't the American people who were bored with the program, it was the press who were bored with it.

        The Apollo 13 launch was barely covered, and until the O2 tank exploded we were hard pressed to find any TV or newspaper coverage of the flight.

        Once Apollo 14 didn't explode the media went back to Viet Nam and the midEast looking for blood.

        Tricky Dick had other uses for NASA funds, and couldn't see supporting a program founded by his arch nemesis.
        mithraigor@...
        • Geezerhood

          "As an old geezer who was a teenager during the Apollo program, it wasn't the American people who were bored with the program, it was the press who were bored with it."

          Sounds as if you're in my age range. While the accounts in Jim Lovell's book "Lost Moon" (upon which the movie "Apollo 13" was based) are likely accurate, I'd suggest that both the American people *and* the press had become bored by the almost automatic way that the Apollo missions *appeared* to function. Behind the scenes, however, there were all sorts of glitches and minor failures, most of which weren't life threatening to the astronauts. Most people didn't know that because of the atmosphere of secrecy that NASA had cultured over the years.

          "The Apollo 13 launch was barely covered, and until the O2 tank exploded we were hard pressed to find any TV or newspaper coverage of the flight."

          Due to the "boredom" of the people and the media, very little coverage of the flight had taken place prior to the O2 tank failure. And, after that, there could be *no* TV broadcasts from Odyssey because of the power shortage.

          "Once Apollo 14 didn't explode the media went back to Viet Nam and the midEast looking for blood."

          There was somewhat more media coverage of Apollo 14, but not as much as on previous missions, and the coverage became more and more spotty as the remainder of the missions went along. (By the time Apollo 13 was scheduled to launch, the remaining planned missions had already been trimmed.)

          "Tricky Dick had other uses for NASA funds, and couldn't see supporting a program founded by his arch nemesis."

          Nixon himself had little to do with paring NASA's budget to the bone. For that, you can blame Congress and the loud bleating of sheeple who insisted on spending that money on things closer to home. Many of the entitlement programs that are now firmly entrenched in the annual Federal budget date from the mid-to-late Seventies and early Eighties.
          M.R. Kennedy
          • One could argue the exact same thing goes on today.

            Most people have long since lost interest in the
            shuttle and space station programs, which only
            move to the forefront of the public consciousness
            when a disaster takes place or appears likely.
            Also, there's little denial of the fact that at
            nearly $1-billion per launch, there is no shortage
            of ideas afloat amongst Congresspeople of how to
            spend that money elsewhere.
            JohnMcGrew@...
  • RE: To the Moon: Boeing, the Rocket Foundry

    That is great about the J-2, but the F-1 was the heavy lifter.

    I hope that they remember the internal baffles, that is the
    kind of old art that can be lost.
    gertruded
    • F-1

      Has a lot of drawbacks, the RP-1 fuel is not as
      efficient as a LOX/H2 based platform from a cost
      conservation standpoint.

      We use the Russian-Made RD-180 which is roughly
      equivalent to an F-1 because it uses a similar
      Kerosene fuel on the Atlas V heavy lifter (it's about 3/4 of the power of an F1, used in combo with SRBs) but
      we will almost certainly end up using the RS-68 and the J-2 in combination with Thiokol SRBs for the Ares V.

      The key is to accomplish much of the same
      performance characteristics of the Saturn V
      without all of the cost. SRBs and LOX/H2
      technology is the only way we can do that.
      jperlow
  • RE: To the Moon: Boeing, the Rocket Foundry

    My mother did touchup with a microscope and other small tools for a company named ChemAero in Los Angeles California(They were a sub contractor), ChemAero is not around anymore and Mom passed away back in 1998, One of the Parts She worked on was a copper plate with 4 names(4 Astronauts, 3 official ones and 1 unofficial as He was the President[Nixon]), the planet earth(both sides) and two example humans on It, The copper plate is under the top step of the descent stage of the LEM near the Mare Tranquility where hopefully It will be undisturbed for eons to come.
    zoom314
  • RE: To the Moon: Boeing, the Rocket Foundry

    I was working for Boeing at the Moon port. I was the 1st stage supervisor. I was at New Orlens June 1964 to Dec 1965 as lead Engineer on the receving and testing of the F-1 Engines before they were mounted on the rocket. Dec 1965 Boeing transferd me to the Moon port as the Supervisor for all the fuel system for the entire rocket. After I had that system ready, I was transferred to the 1st stage and I was the Supervisor for all the 1st stage vehicles until 1970. Not many of us left.
    fl7903
    • : fl7903

      How do you feel about the idiots that question the authenticity of the
      moon landings? We have a few posting on the original story.
      gertruded
      • Moon Landing

        I am not concerned about them. I just want the young generation to know about what went on in 1969. I am so proud of the Apollo 8 guys that took that gamble to go around the moon Dec. 1968. I don?t know if you were alive or watched that Christmas eve when they went into orbit 60 miles above the moon. The whole free world was praying for them. That was the best Christmas that I ever had. Floyd
        fl7903
        • Moon Landing

          I watched on TV when I was much Younger(We had a Color TV and the Saturn V that launched 11-17 was LOUD!), They were brave indeed as It was the 1st time It had ever been done and It was decided to do It earlier than planned I read, As the Race to the Moon was on and We were playing for Keeps.
          zoom314
        • the best Christmas

          Yes Floyd, I agree totally. That Christmas eve was very, very special. And
          Yes, I watched with my young family and wife and remember it as if it
          were yesterday.

          Probably the greatest achievement of human kind. You should be very
          proud of your contribution.
          gertruded
        • Christmas from the Moon

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnyNXLXl8iA
          gertruded
        • The first stage

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKtH0uzg8wU
          gertruded
      • fruad

        I have thought about it in the last couple days. If it was fraud then why would a level headed person wonder just why the folks in Washington and the news media wasn't going nuts about it. They do on everything else. Just maybe they are not level headed.
        fl7903
  • McDonnell Aircraft

    I remember those missions with great fondness--I had a
    great Christmas in 1968, too, thanks to the Apollo 8 mission.
    I think we ought to give some credit to St. Louis-based
    McDonnell Aircraft, builders of the Mercury and Gemini
    spacecraft. Those programs made Apollo possible.
    oh_never_mind